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The science behind combining music and exercise

Posted in Fitness Research, Music

What have you noticed when you exercise to music? Does it make it easier? Does it motivate you? Researchers have looked at exactly those questions and this is what they have discovered…

Whether it’s pounding the pavement to P!nk, cycling to Coldplay, lifting to Lady Gaga or stepping to Swedish House Mafia, there’s no doubt that when we workout with music it makes a difference.

The effect of music depends on the type of exercise you’re doing. If you’re working out at a low to moderate intensity, research shows that playing music can be a great way of decreasing perceived exertion. This is most likely due to the fact that listening to music bombards your brains with stimuli that divert your attention from the discomfort of exercise, distracting you from how hard you’re working.

When it comes to higher intensity exercise listening to music is less likely to lower perceived exertion. It appears that when the intensity of exercise reaches a certain level music no longer provides enough of a distraction. However if you’re doing a high-intensity workout listening to music is still beneficial – it will change the way you respond to high-intensity exercise by making you more likely to hang in there despite the discomfort.

Music has also been shown to help with metabolic efficiency1. A 2012 study demonstrated that cyclists who pedaled in time to music required seven per cent less oxygen as cyclists who didn’t. It seems that music helps to achieve a degree of efficiency in our movement that requires less energy.

There are four aspects within music that influence exercise effectiveness. From most to least important they are: 1) the rhythm or beat of the music, 2) the musicality, pitch or harmony, 3) the cultural impact or what the music means within your society, and finally 4) any associations you have with that piece of music.

These four aspects feed into our motivational drive. They then affect our level of arousal, the perception of how hard we are working and finally our mood. When our mood is positively influenced it strengthens our exercise adherence by encouraging us to workout frequently.

Put simply, there’s no doubt that music can have a profound effect on how you exercise and ultimately how you’re feeling while you’re exercising.

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